<br /> Lee Letter: n375

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: George Washington

Dear Sir,

Your favor of the 16th I received yesterday, and was a good deal surprised
to find you had been told that Congress had appointed Gen. Conway a
Major General.1 No such appointment has been
made, nor do I believe it will, whilst it is likely to produce the evil
consequences you suggest. It is very true, that both within and without
doors, their have been Advocates for the measure, and it has been
affirmed that it would be very agreeable to the army, whose favorite
Mr. Conway was asserted to be. My judgement on this business was not
formed until I received your letter. I am very sure congress would not
take any step that might injure the Army, or even have a tendency that
way; and I verily believe they wish to lessen your difficulties by
every means in their power, from an entire conviction that the purest
motives of public good direct your actions.

The business of a Board of War is so extensive, so important, and demanding
such constant attention, that Congress see clearly the necessity of
constituting a new Board, out of Congress, whose time shall be entirely
devoted to that essential department.2 It is
by some warmly proposed that this board shall be filled by the three
following gentlemen, Colo. Read, Colo. Pickering the present Adjutant
General, and Colo. Harrison your Secretary. And that Gen. Conway be
appointed A.G. in the room of Colo. Pickering. It is my wish, and

I am sure it is so of many others, to know your full and candid sentiments
on this subject. For my own part, I cannot be satisfied with giving any
opinion on the point until I am favored with your sentiments, which I
shall be much obliged to you for Sir as soon as your time will permit.
It has been affirmed that Gen. Conway would quit the service if he were
not made a M. General. But I have been told, in confidence, that he
would leave it at the end of this Campaign if he was appointed, unless
his word of honor were taken to continue for any fixed time. And it is
a question with me whether the Advocates for Gen. Conway will not miss
their aim if he should be appointed A. General, unless he has the rank
of Maj. General also. My reason for thinking so, is, that I have been
informed Gen. Conway desires to retire to his family, provided he can
carry from this Country home with him, a rank that will raise him in
France. It is very certain that the public good demands a speedy
erecting, and judicious filling of the new Board of War; and I
sincerely wish it may be done in the most proper manner. I do not
imagine Congress would appoint Colo. Harrison without first knowing
whether you could spare him, nor do I think that so important an office
as that of A.G. should be touched without maturest consideration.

We every moment expect the Express with an account that will enable us to
congratulate you on the surrender of Gen. Burgoyne and the remains of
his shattered army. This will be one of the Prussian sixes, and I augur
that the other will soon cast up upon the Delaware.

I am, with sincerest wishes for your health and success, dear Sir your
most affectionate and obedient servant,

Richard Henry Lee

Notes:

George Washington PapersLibrary of Congress

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 337 – 39.

1 For Washington’s letter to Lee explaining his opposition to the promotion
of Thomas Conway, see Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:387 – 90.
In the Richard Varick transcript, the only copy of the letter that
has been found, the letter is dated October 17.

Despite Washington’s opposition, Conway was eventually appointed inspector
general of the Continental Army and promoted to the rank of major
general on December 13, 1777 – a decision Congress reached even after
Conway had submitted a letter of resignation and charged several
delegates with unjustified hostility to his pretensions to this rank.
The surprisingly brusque letter he sent to York with his letter of
resignation – both of which were read in Congress on November
24 – contains information on the subject of some of the delegates’
initial opposition to him as well as a lengthy review of his claim to
rank. “This Day,” Conway asserted in the 14 November letter he
directed “to Cha. Carroll, or, in his absence, to the secretary of
Congress,” “I have sent my resignation to congress. Seven Weeks agoe
several gentlemen wrote to me from the seat of congress mentioning
the very extraordinary Discourses held by you sir, by Mr Lovell, Mr
Duher, and some other members on account of my applying for the rank
of Major General. If I had hearken’d to well grounded resentment, I
should undoubtedly have Left the army instantly. But my Delicacy
pointed out to me to continue in the army untill the end of the
Campaign.” That he was promoted the following month pursuant to a
recommendation of the Board of War suggests both considerable
approval of his forthrightness and the persuasiveness of his letter.
See JCC, 9:958, 1023 – 26; and, for Conway’s 25 September letter
requesting promotion and November 14 letter to Carroll, PCC, item
159, fols, 453 – 55, 46147.

2 See Henry Laurens to Robert Howe, this date, note 1.